Giovanna Aicardi interviews Nez and AuParfum co-founder Dominique Brunel.
Nez is a French bi-annual magazine exploring the world through our olfactory sensations with an unprecedented multidisciplinary approach to art, literature, science, history, gastronomy, and perfume. Each issue brings together scientists, perfumers, writers, historians and artists to discuss a specific topic, expanding the conversation of scent and its essential role in our lives.
Map of the Heart’s Giovanna Aicardi visits the Nez office in Paris to interview co-founder Dominique Brunel. Here they discuss some of the ongoing conflicts in the fragrance industry, what potentially lies in the future of scent, and why Nez is integral in the world of perfume and olfaction.
"TOGETHER WE MADE NEZ BECAUSE IT WAS THE ONLY MAGAZINE NOT SOLELY TALKING ABOUT LUXURY AND BEAUTY, BUT ALSO CULTURE"
Why did you start Nez?
We started Nez in 2016 because we saw an opportunity to address the olfactory world in general, not only in perfume. For 10 years prior we were running Auparfum, a site which primarily focuses on perfume and the fragrance market. Auparfum means to ‘be aware of something’ in French. Our readers were interested in other realms of fragrance so we decided to expand our conversation to include art, olfaction, science, and many other areas which we couldn’t address within Auparfum.
Is there a direct relationship between Auparfum and Nez?
Auparfum became the biggest French website dedicated to perfume, not only niche, but also mainstream. There was an existing community which helped us launch Nez. We crowd funded in 2016 and raised 25 000 euros with the help of almost 500 people. With this we knew we wanted to do a magazine but weren’t sure exactly how to since it wasn’t our specialty. When I say we, I mean it was myself and the chief editor of Auparfum, Jeanne Doré. But now with Nez, we have Mathieu Chevara from the publishing house Le Contrepoint.
Auparfum remains focused on perfume reviews. We have also developed an e-store where we sell our books and products, like the subscription sample box we launched a year and a half ago. Every 2 months, we send 4 vials of 5ml of perfume to our subscribers. But it also sells books, workshop tickets, and products from some of our partners.
And the team crosses over between the two.
Yes. Together we made Nez because it was the only magazine not solely talking about luxury and beauty, but also culture. Now it is published bi-annually, as well as in English and Italian.
What were some of your reasons for publishing an English edition?
There were a few reasons. Firstly, economics. It was better for us to reach beyond our country to conquer the world (laughs)! This was already very possible for us since there were no other magazine like ours around. We wanted to publish in English as early as possible, even if we didn’t have the right distribution network at the time. Now we’re distributed worldwide – between 15 to 20 countries.
In what ways do you think Nez is contributing to the world of olfaction?
We’re contributing to two different sections – olfaction and perfume. In perfumery and Auparfum, the focus is directed at brands and their marketing. Auparfum allowed us to present a real knowledge about how perfumes are created and how they work, so the audience can judge for themselves and form a unique opinion on a scent. Until recently, a person’s choice of fragrance was heavily driven by the amount of marketing a company had. It was important to have a site like ours where you can find references for yourself, or something which might help you on your fragrance journey. We are trying to express a historical, sociological and scientific point of view.
You can see that we have become quite important because industry professionals are very interested and engaged with what Nez and Auparfum are doing. You never hear someone in the industry saying that they don’t like Nez, or that it isn’t correct. It’s quite the contrary. Often they enjoy reading Nez because they’re learning things, and I think it’s a magazine which tells them about new developments in an unbiased way. You can read Nez for both work and pleasure.
“(GENDER) IS ONE OF THE BIGGER IDEOLOGIES IN NICHE AND INDEPENDENT PERFUMES SINCE THEY GENERALLY DON’T TARGET WOMEN OR MEN, BUT JUST PEOPLE WHO LIKE IT."
Do you believe that fragrance has gender?
Actually, no. But it’s quite a complicated question. Personally, I can say that I don’t believe that fragrances have gender but we have to admit that for other people and the commercial market, it does.
Exactly. Generally, in marketing, it is assumed that flowers are feminine and woods are masculine.
Exactly, and you can’t really say that it doesn’t exist because it’s very prevalent in the perfume industry. You can, however, say that you don’t want to address it because I believe, same with colour, that scent has no gender. This is one of the bigger ideologies in niche and independent perfumes since they generally don’t target women or men, but just people who like it. When the fragrance talks to you, you can feel it, the mood, the moment.
In your third issue, you discuss the ‘Sex of Scent‘. How did you come to investigate this idea?
That was our first issue in English. It’s a very important topic, since it’s one of the first questions people ask about a fragrance – ‘Is it for men or women?’ I often find that this question comes from people who are not well-versed in the niche industry. Historically, fragrance was created for women, and then a special perfume for men was introduced. Fragrance has really evolved since then and people are still exploring perfumes marketed at other genders. Everything is evolving – it’s not really in your genes, and sometimes you might prefer one scent over the other. That’s one of the things that pushed us to explore that issue. It’s one of the bigger and broader discussions that people are keyed into. And since that was our first issue in English, it brought a lot of attention to us which was great.
Do you think there is room for improvement in olfaction, specifically its position in the contemporary world?
Yes. I think there is a lot of room because it’s not something that we are really taught in school – to smell. On the contrary, you learn a lot of visual things from an early age in every aspect of your development. You learn how to explain mostly from looking, seeing and touching, but not so much by smelling.
I would say that smell takes a growing place in many fields: in health, with dogs able to detect breast cancer, artificial noses used by tech companies to analyse how the air smells and determine, among other things, if it may cause a disagreement with the audience present. In Nez#5, in the ‘Icons’ section, we present Kentaro Kawaguchi who is about to market a device which attaches itself to virtual reality helmets and diffuses aromas.
Why do you think scent has become more of an unchartered territory than other senses?
Well it’s not really taught in school. Also, when you look back through history, smell has always been associated with bad things. In our first issue we published a story called ‘Unique Scents and Forbidden Scents’ where it addressed The Bible and how it has always connected women and perfume with animalistic and instinctive sinful actions – lust.
As humans developed, we came to a conclusion that we didn’t need smell as much, because we relied so heavily on sight and touch to do work and achieve progress. We have forgotten how imperative scent is, but in fact we use it everyday subconsciously.
Yes. Food is tasteless without scent.
Completely. Historically, there was ritualistic olfaction and scent was thought of as belonging to an animal. With perfume, it was always connected to something quite dangerous. For instance – women and witches. Originally it was called profumo, which was smoke and incense. It was used as a communication between ourselves and the gods, and only later was it used as a decoration for your appearance and physical presence.
What are some of your favourite personal scent memories or experiences?
That’s quite complicated. It’s funny because when I think back to Nez, we had these small cards with scent inside. You can open, smell and re-smell them, and I think it often associates with early memories for most people. One of our first cards was about school, and the memory of being at school. Of course, all we remembered was this specific brand of glue called Cleopatra. It smelt like almonds and children used to eat it. That’s a scent which none of us could forget.
Do you have any others?
For me, it’s a strong strange mix of the smell of cars, smoked wood, and asphalt. I’m never in cars, but it reminds me of when I was younger. My cousin was crazy about cars and he worked in a garage. It’s funny because it’s connected to a situational memory, not really an emotional one, since I don’t have an interest in cars at all.
Are there any individuals working in fragrance who you think are doing interesting things?
Yes. In Nez, for instance…(laughing) I am always answering in terms of Nez! We have a section called ‘Icons’ which is a mix of people who we consider to be important or have significantly contributed to olfaction and perfume. For example, we have Chantal Jaquet who is a philosopher, or Guillaume Rolland, who was elected by Google for innovation because he made wake up calls, like alarms, with scents. There was also Georges Aldrich, whose job was to smell everything that goes into a rocket. Just to be sure that people sent into space aren’t bothered by bad smells.
(Laughing) because you can’t escape…
Yes! In Nez, we have what we call a brand focus at the back of each issue. The first was of Vero Profumo and then we had Iunx, Arquiste, Amouage, and Parfum d’empire. We are trying to identify niche brands who have been around for 10 or 15 years, to give them a platform and the attention they deserve.
We also address science and history in perfume. In the fourth issue ‘Art & Olfaction‘, we have a special focus on olfactory art – there are a lot of artists crossing these boundaries. Often they are projects which have been specifically developed to use olfaction. This is something which is very interesting now – the panorama of art and how it exists. Even Duchamp was working with scents back in the 20th Century.
What lies in the current issue?
Our latest issue of Nez, which is our 5th, is discussing and comparing synthetic and natural ingredients in fragrance.
This seems to be a very controversial and ongoing discussion in the industry.
Yes. As I mentioned earlier, the first question is always regarding gender. The second is then whether it’s synthetic or natural. Is synthetic dangerous? Is natural better? Even in the media, people write incorrect articles about these ingredients being dangerous.
I think it’s because they play on this idea that perfumes must be natural to be good and of a high quality.
Completely. But it makes no sense because perfumery cannot solely exist within natural ingredients. Since the late 19th century, modern perfumery has existed because of the invention and introduction of synthetics. That’s why we wanted to address this subject in our next issue, because there are a lot of things said which are untrue.
It’s all in the marketing.
Within marketing, brands often communicate about naturals and sometimes they say that it’s made a certain way because it communicates better. But to achieve a lot of these natural qualities, they have to use synthetic processes. For example, they might be producing the scent of a flower, but sometimes you can’t extract that. So you say it smells like a natural, and then people will think it has extracted to produce the perfume. Brands like to let people think this rather than say the truth.
We have also been looking at the smell of different ingredients and trying to decipher which ones are natural and synthetic – it’s very difficult! Everyone here in the office has failed (laughs).
Photography by Rasa Juskeviciute
Interview by Giovanna Aicardi